FERC, BLM work to advance 1,300-MW Eagle Mountain hydro project

Whether the 1,300-MW Eagle Mountain Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project in California would interfere with in-development solar projects in the area is one of the topics that came up at a May 8 meeting of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

FERC staff on July 16 filed with the commission their notes about the May 8 meeting. On May 8, commission staff met with the staff of the BLM in Palm Desert, Calif., to improve agency coordination and discuss the agencies’ overlapping jurisdictions on the Eagle Mountain Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project.

Following the agreed upon agenda, Timothy Welch of FERC opened the meeting stating that the goal of the meeting was to discuss questions raised by BLM staff concerning the 2009 application for a license under the Federal Power Act (FPA) for the Eagle Mountain project, submitted by Eagle Crest Energy.

Welch provided a brief chronology of the FERC licensing process, including: the January 2012 issuance of the final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Eagle Mountain project; Eagle Crest’s pending application to the California State Water Resources Control Board for a Water Quality Certification under the Clean Water Act, which is expected to be issued in the near future; and FERC staff’s preparation of a draft order on the license application.

BLM staff stated that it believes that the FERC staff’s recommended primary transmission line route for the Eagle Mountain project is acceptable, but BLM staff will complete its own review of this route in order to fulfill its due diligence requirements.

BLM staff, among other things, also stated that the land exchange between Kaiser Ventures and Mine Reclamation and BLM, for the proposed landfill on Eagle Mountain to be operated by the County Sanitation District of Los Angeles, has not been completed because of a court order issued in response to a legal challenge to the exchange. Although Kaiser and the Sanitation District cannot proceed with the landfill at the present time, Kaiser now holds title to the BLM lands exchanged, along with the majority of the lands in the central area to be used by the proposed hydro project.

FERC staff clarified that regardless of the status of the land exchange, if the proposed hydro project is licensed to Eagle Crest it will be required to obtain legal access to all lands required for project purposes, including any non-federal lands. If voluntary means are not sufficient to acquire such access, Section 21 of the FPA grants the licensee the option of going into federal or state court to take such rights by eminent domain, after the payment of appropriate compensation to the land owner.

A number of solar projects are proposed in this area

FERC staff asked BLM staff to describe the status of the active and pending solar projects in the Chuckwalla Valley area. BLM stated that the Red Bluff substation is under construction by Southern California Edison, connected to the existing 500-kV Devers-Palo Verde transmission line along the I-10 corridor. BLM very briefly reviewed the status of various solar projects, which are either under construction or for which applications for rights of way (ROW) have been submitted to BLM, with the proposals being from: L.H. Renewables-Eagle Mountain; Desert Sunlight
; Desert Harvest; 
Ridgeline Energy; Chuckwalla Solar I; Palen Solar; BrightSource Energy; SolarReserve; Graham Pass; John Deere Renewables; Genesis Solar;
 EDF Renewable Energy; FPL Energy; Palo Verde Solar; and First Solar.

FERC staff asked whether there are proposed solar projects which may conflict with the Eagle Mountain project. BLM staff stated that the Desert Sunlight Solar Project, which is under construction, does not conflict with this hydro project, and BLM is waiting for the commission’s determination under FPA Section 24 whether the proposed Desert Harvest Project conflicts with Eagle Mountain. BLM staff stated that adjustments to the solar projects to protect the value of federal lands reserved by Eagle Crest’s application for a hydropower license are expected to be relatively minor, including ensuring that no solar arrays are located in the ROW for the hydro project and that solar arrays on federal lands are not sited so that they would be shadowed by the towers of the hydro project’s primary transmission line.

BLM staff stated that applications for ROWs for three proposed solar projects near the proposed Eagle Mountain Project have been withdrawn: LH Renewables; Ridgeline; and Chuckwalla Solar I.

The FERC and BLM staff members discussed next steps to cooperate in the processing of proposals for solar and hydro projects located on federal lands in the Eagle Mountain area. BLM staff stated it will continue to analyze cumulative effects of renewable energy projects proposed to the two agencies, since they present major, ongoing issues.

BLM staff stated that all of the nearby solar projects plan to use photovoltaic arrays other than the Palen Project and that this 500-MW project plans to use a thermal tower solar project with twin 750-foot tall towers. BLM staff stated that the Brightsource Project has decreased its expected groundwater use and, in general, projected water use for most of the proposed solar projects has decreased. BLM staff clarified that it uses only pending or approved renewable energy projects for the agency’s cumulative effects analysis, not all possible future projects.

Eagle Mountain project would use old mining works

The proposed project consists of a pumped storage project using two existing mining pits, part of the former Eagle Mountain mine (owned by Kaiser) near the town of Eagle Mountain, Calif. Water will be pumped from a lower pit/reservoir to an upper pit/reservoir during periods of low demand to generate peak energy during periods of high demand. To obtain the needed storage volume at the existing upper pit, two dams will be constructed along its perimeter. As the lower pit has sufficient storage for the total required volume, no dams will be needed for the lower reservoir.

The project will consist of facilities that include:

  • two roller-compacted concrete dams at the upper reservoir at heights of 60 feet and 120 feet;
  • an upper reservoir with capacity of 20,000 acre-feet;
  • a lower reservoir with capacity of 21,900 acre-feet;
  • a 72-foot-wide, 150-foot-high, and 360-foot-long underground powerhouse with four Francis-type turbine units rated at 325 MW each; and
  • a 13.5-mile, 500-kV transmission line.

The 1,300 MW project would provide a dependable source of electrical energy for the region (4,308,000 MWh annually) and it would come from a renewable resource that would not contribute to atmospheric pollution, FERC said in its January 2012 final EIS on the project.

“California has enacted renewable resource goals to increase the percentage of renewable resource generation to 33 percent by 2020,” the final EIS said. “The projected wind, solar, biomass, and small (under 30 MW) hydroelectric facilities would help to achieve these goals. However, the variable output of wind and solar facilities can create an imbalance in the stability of the electric grid if sufficient facilities are not available to balance the system. The two primary alternatives being considered in the region to address these imbalances are pumped storage facilities and gas-fired combustion turbines. The installation of pumped storage facilities for the purposes of system balancing would be supportive of California’s renewable resource goals because they do not require the burning of fossil fuels. While pumped storage facilities greater than 30 MW, such as the Eagle Mountain Project, are not directly eligible under California’s Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) as generating facilities, these facilities can qualify under the RPS if the energy used to pump the water into the storage reservoir is provided by an eligible generating facility.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.